How a tribal boy becomes a dreaded Naxalite

HYDERABAD: A 120km journey from the port city of Vishakapatnam on the highest broad gauge railway line through hills, lush green valleys, dales and waterfalls takes you to Araku Valley, one of the least known tourist places in India. For holidayers — mostly from coastal Andhra Pradesh and Kolkata — the valley offers breathtaking views. And although the Andhra Pradesh government is trying hard to promote tourism here, it's doubtful if the plans will ever succeed: Araku is on the edge of Maoist territory.

The railway line descends soon after Araku straight into "liberated zone" in Orissa and enters Chhattisgarh. There are no Maoist attacks in or around Araku but the rebels treat this as fertile ground for new recruits. "This is also tribal territory and although the ultras have been driven out of AP, the Maoist leadership is still in the hands of Telugus. So, the natural tendency for them is to keep contact with their homeland and look for new recruits from here," says Soumya Mishra, DIG (Vishakhapatnam range).

The Maoist mode of recruitment makes for a fascinating exercise in human resource development. In the beginning, the Maoists visit villages on a familiarisation trip: How poor is the village? Are there disgruntled elements? Are their local disputes? In the second stage, they start solving local problems. Most villages are remote, with little or no trace of administration.

"If, say, an epidemic like malaria breaks out, the Maoists are the first to reach there with medicines," says another police officer. It's with such fervour that they enlist the support of the villagers, which then allows them to identify "sympathisers" — youth who can be indoctrinated with the ideology of violence.

In the next stage, the sympathisers and disgruntled elements are roped in for odd jobs like carrying food articles and raw material for the rebels. The Maoists also try to get recruits to commit some offences like cutting trees and blocking roads or damage government property like post offices. The idea is to make them fugitives from the law," says DIG Mishra.

In the next stage, if a recruit shows promise, he is inducted into 'dalam' or local guerrilla squad (comprising up to 15 members each), trained to handle weapons, and made to commit a major offence. "From the time of his indoctrination, it would be two years before a recruit is allowed to commit a major offence," says IG Santosh Mehra.

Although Maoists visit villages, hold meetings and offer revolutionary messages, analysts say that the people who join them are mostly those with personal problems: Failed love affairs, escaping loan sharks or plain unemployed. "They are more like baghis (bandits) who joined the dacoits in Chambal," said one Hyderabad-based analyst.

Not everyone who joins the rebels is likely to remain one. Cops say there are many who find the romance shattered — being permanently on the run psyches them out. They return and surrender to the police seeking a normal life. Others, however, progress further: from dalam to platoon (25-30 members), and then to company which is 1,000 strong.

A few years ago, there were no Maoist companies. But recruitment has increased. More, when Maoists move in formations of 1,000 they can't go undetected. This can only denote their total dominance over an area where it does not matter whether they are found out or not. "But this happens in Orissa and Chattisgarh and not AP," says IG Mehra.

Vishakapatnam, North Telangana regions of Adilabad, and the tribal territory on the border with Gadhchiroli in Maharashtra are places the Maoists make recruitments from. Interestingly,
the Maoists, for the last few years, have not struck in their catchment areas: The idea is to use these places as safe havens and not attract attention of the police.

The radical Left wing movement began in Srikakulam (100 km from Vishakapatnam) almost simultaneously with the Naxalbari uprising led by Charu Majumdar in 1967. They spread towards Telangana, hundreds of kilometres away from Srikakulam, after a failed attempt by the locals to get a separate state of Telangana state in 1969-71.

Over the years, the quality of recruits has fallen — particularly since 1991 and the onset of liberalisation. Educated youth, with more opportunities for employment, are no longer attracted to the Maoist ideology. It's a curious turn that Maoism has taken: Once a preserve of educated youth, today it depends on the support of underprivileged tribals.